Career Academies, Programs at Downcounty High Schools

June 14, 2002
Montgomery County Public Schools
Starting next fall, the four high schools in the Downcounty Consortium will offer academies for incoming ninth grade students that will serve as the foundation for their high school experience during the next four years.

And as they progress through school, students at Montgomery Blair, Albert Einstein, John F. Kennedy and Wheaton high schools will be able to focus their learning around a range of specific academic or career pathways.

The first-year implementation activities of the Downcounty Consortium are directed toward creating smaller learning communities for entering ninth grade students.

Research over the past decade has shown that smaller learning environments, individual attention and strong academic intervention - particularly in the ninth grade - improve the odds that a student will finish high school.

Parents, teachers and administrators have played an active role in developing the themes for programs or academies in which students will participate throughout their high school years. Some of the schools have at least one existing program, and all four are developing additional signature programs and academies while improving the ones currently in place. At each school, focus groups of parents, staff and students have begun to explore specific pathways and course-taking patterns for each program. In addition, full-time signature coordinators are in place at each school to oversee plans for establishing identified programs.

Common features

Programs for freshmen at all four Downcounty high schools will have several features in common.

§ Students entering two or more grades behind in literacy and/or mathematics will be enrolled in special double-period classes designed to accelerate their learning.

§ Students will take a custom-designed one-semester Freshman Seminar designed to ease transition from middle school to high school, introduce them to career and higher education opportunities and prepare them to choose a program of studies for the remainder of high school.

§ Entering freshmen will benefit from new school structures and organization, including teacher teaming, reduced class size and emphasis on interdisciplinary curriculum.

Students at the higher grade levels will have access to smaller learning communities within the larger school and, as much as possible, with a common core of teachers who will remain with students for the final three years of high school. Each of the academies within the four high schools will be connected to higher education partners and, through the efforts of the Montgomery County Business Roundtable for Education, to business partners. Internships and mentorship opportunities will be available for students and teachers, both within the business and the higher education communities.
Here's a look at what will be happening at each of the four schools.

Montgomery Blair High School

Entering freshmen will enjoy the academic and personal support of a team of ninth grade teachers, guidance counselors and administrators. Groups of about 100 students each will be formed around English/social studies blocks and science/technology teaching teams. The groupings will reflect students' academic interests and aptitudes.

Throughout other grades, Blair students will be organized around five academies reflecting students' career interests. Two of the new programs - an Academy of Science, Math and Technology and a Media Literacy Academy - will build on and extend the interdisciplinary curricula and teaching strategies from existing magnet programs in Math, Science and Technology and Communication Arts. In addition, Blair will develop academies of Entrepreneurship, Human Service Professions and International Studies. Each will feature expansion of existing programs that serve students' interests and needs.

Albert Einstein High School

At Albert Einstein High School, freshmen will be organized into academy teams connected to the academic and career pathways within the school. Ninth grade students will be assigned to an interdisciplinary teaching team, whose members will support the students and provide connections as they move into the academies or programs. About 125 freshmen will be enrolled in the accelerated literacy and mathematics programs.

For students at other grade levels, the school will build on existing programs while expanding them to meet the needs of more diverse learners. The magnet program in Visual Arts will be enhanced by the creation of an Academy of Visual and Performing Arts. The existing Academy of Finance will be revamped and upgraded to meet guidelines established by the National Academy of Finance program, and the existing International Studies and Technology Program will become an International Baccalaureate program.

John F. Kennedy High School

Freshmen at John F. Kennedy High School will connect to the existing summer bridge program and freshman seminar, while also participating in a number of targeted freshman programs, including double-period algebra and connected English and literacy classes. Teachers will be part of interdisciplinary planning teams, and an administrator and counselor will be assigned to the ninth grade.

The Leadership Training Institute will continue as a cornerstone program at the school. In addition, three new academy programs will be created: a Multimedia Academy, an Academy of Biology and Geoscience, and a Sports Medicine Academy.

Wheaton High School

Freshmen will enter the Ninth Grade Academy, with each student assigned to a teaching team of 100 to 110 students for the entire year. Students with major deficits in literacy or mathematics will be assigned to double-period courses, while other students on the same team will accelerate their learning with honors-level and pre-AP course work.

Grades 10-12 will be organized around the Wheaton Academies of Technology. Students will be able to choose from an Academy of Information Technology, an Academy of Biotechnology and Medical Careers, and an Academy of Engineering. Each of the programs will be directed toward meeting the needs of a broad range of student aptitudes and interests while maintaining the option for students to choose a more traditional comprehensive program within the structures of the school.

Implementation and alignment of consortium activities, including the opening of Northwood High in Silver Spring as a fifth participating school, will proceed over a five-year period. It is anticipated that the reopening of Northwood for the 2004-05 school year will provide needed classroom space and the flexibility that will allow students to choose a high school program across the consortium.

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